Baseball team looking for strong start

The Gophers hope to change their current trend of starting games slow offensively.

by Paul Cordes

After taking home its seventh come-from-behind victory of the year against No. 9 Pepperdine last week, the Minnesota baseball team could be in an unfamiliar position this weekend – ahead early in a game.

The Gophers will meet up with a struggling Hartford team this weekend at the Metrodome with a 6:35 p.m. game tonight, 2:05 p.m. start tomorrow and a 1:05 p.m. series finale on Sunday.

With the Hawks (1-9 overall, 0-0 America East) sporting an 11.35 earned run average, Minnesota hitters should have an opportunity to feast on Hartford pitching.

Sophomore third baseman Nate Hanson said the Gophers are going to have to keep their bats hot by working the opposite side of the field.

“We have to play up the middle and opposite field,” he said. “We’re trying to go with the pitch and be consistent with that, and that’s how we’re scoring a lot of runs.”

A lot of runs, but a lot of runs late in games. The majority of Minnesota’s offensive production has come after the sixth inning, forcing the Gophers (11-5, 0-0 Big Ten) to battle from behind.

Coach John Anderson said he thinks having the ability to come from behind and not give up on games is a quality to have, but wouldn’t mind seeing a few more runs cross the plate earlier on.

“We’d like to get the momentum on our side early, but the fact of the matter is you’re not gong to do that in every game,” he said.

“Sometimes the other team’s starting pitcher is better than the bullpen or vice versa, so the game can be dictated a lot by the other team’s starting pitching and we’ve faced some great pitching here early in the year.”

Despite the effect of opponents’ pitching staffs on Minnesota’s early play, it’s tough to ignore Gophers’ pitchers keeping them close enough to strike.

The staff has an earned run average of a

little over 4.0, but seven of Minnesota’s 16 games have come against nationally ranked opponents this season.

Junior right-hander Ethan Vogt said he thinks the staff is developing well and realizes that they need to keep their team in games and allow for the bats to catch up sometimes.

“We just have to be patient and go one inning at a time,” he said. “We have to put up zeros and try to keep it close for our hitters. That’s all we can do.”

Still though, six of the Gophers’ 11 wins this season have gone to relief pitchers out of the bullpen.

Anderson said he has been very pleased with his bullpen and the outings they’ve had so far, but said his starters still have a job to do.

“We just tell them that we play nine innings, and we have to play them all, regardless of how the game starts,” he said. “We need them to keep it close and give our offense a chance to get things going. We have to keep the game in balance so we have a realistic chance of coming back the last few innings of the game.”

Hanson said the Gophers’ nature not to give up on a game speaks a lot about the team in general.

“It says a lot about the character of our team,” Hanson said. “We know we’ll face adversity and be down, but we’ve shown we have the ability to come back. Our pitchers keep us in the game and our bats finally come around and we’re staying competitive.”